Mental health

Experts call for ketamine to be upgraded to class B

Updated information 12 February 2014

The Home Office announced today that it was acting  on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advice and ketamine will definitely be upgraded to a Class B drug.

“Ketamine should be reclassified as class B drug, government experts say,” The Guardian reports.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the body that advises the Home Office on drugs, has recommended that ketamine (currently a class C drug) be upgraded to class B.

What is ketamine?

Ketamine is a powerful anaesthetic used both in humans and animals (hence one of its nicknames "donkey dust"). The drug is usually available in powdered form, though it can also be bought in capsules as well as a liquid that can be injected.

Its popularity as a club drug rose during the 1990s as it was cheaper than cocaine and many clubbers regarded it as more powerful than ecstasy.

The latest crime survey of England and Wales estimated that around 120,000 people took ketamine in 2012-13.

What are the effects of ketamine?

The effects of ketamine are dose-dependent. In small doses it can cause feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

In larger doses it can cause a sense of being detached from your body, vivid hallucinations and even body paralysis. This combination of symptoms is referred to by users as “being in the k-hole”.

Why is ketamine being reclassified?

It isn't yet. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs does not have the power to change the law. However, the council is concerned about the effects of chronic ketamine use on the bladder.

Ketamine can cause inflammation of the bladder in the same way as an infection. Most long-term users develop some degree of damage to their bladder; this is known as ketamine induced vesicopathy (KIV) or ketamine bladder.

Symptoms of ketamine bladder include:

In severe cases, the bladder can become so damaged that it has to be surgically removed and a person then has to pass urine into a pouch (urostomy) attached to their body.

Are there any other risks from using ketamine?

Yes. The effects of feeling detached from the body have led many users to injure themselves, often severely, without realising it.

Long-term use can cause mental health symptoms such as depressionanxiety and lead to panic attacks. The drug can also make any pre-existing mental health problems worse.

Ketamine can be very addictive.

What are the implications if ketamine becomes a class B drug?

If ketamine is upgraded to class B status then it would be in the same category of illegal drugs as amphetamines (speed) and barbiturates.

The legal penalty for possessing a class B drug can be up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Supplying a class B drug to others, even if it is just to your friends, can lead to a prison sentence of up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

The Home Office and Department of Health are now considering the recommendation.

Where to get help

If you are concerned about your drug use and are looking for services that could help you stop taking drugs, or at least minimise harm to yourself, you can use the NHS Choices service finder to find your nearest NHS drug misuse service.

You can also call the confidential Frank helpline on 0300 123 6600 for more information about drugs and the different options available for help and support.

The helpline is open every day, 24 hours a day.

NHS Attribution